Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood and Co Book 5)

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co., #4)The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adore this series. I always look forward to the newest book. And I have to get these on audiobook because the narration is always excellent. I was not disappointed. At the end of "The Hollow Boy", Lucy leaves Lockwood and Co for what seems like good reasons at the time. She becomes an independent contractor ghost hunter and she's good at her job. But she's not happy, even with her glass jar skull for company. She misses the camaraderie of Lockwood and Co.: George, even Holly, and of course, Lockwood. But she left to keep them safe because her newer abilities to communicate with ghosts might cause her to make a mistake and get one of her friends hurt.

Lockwood shows up at her new digs and asks for her help with a case, and she agrees to help them out. It's one of their tougher cases, and Lucy finds her life in jeopardy shortly after, and realizing that she's more safe sticking with Lockwood and Co. until they figure out who's trying to kill her. That's when their biggest case comes their way, a whole haunted village. They end up in a small town with serious ghost problems a conspiracy that will shake the foundations of the ghost hunting community.

I love how Stroud steadily builds on the foundation of the last book and the previous ones. The story just expands beautifully and he doesn't leave any plot elements dangling. While he turns a few things on their heads, it's organic as the reader realizes that things weren't as the characters thought or believed. The characters are very well developed and layered. While the main characters are all teens, they have a maturity that is realistic considering the world they live in and the dangers they face every day. Let's face it. The children are the ones on the frontline, confronting and dealing with the ghost Problem.

These books are delightfully eerie and downright chilling at times. Also, there's plenty of human menace. I mean, grownups trying to kill kids. How sick is that? While the paranormal elements are integral to the story, the heart of it is the characters. Everything is told from Lucy's point of view (it's 1st person), but the characters don't suffer from being seen through the typically narrow 1st person vantage point. Instead, they are richly described, with dialogue and action that shows you everything you need to know about them. Lucy also grows as a character as she faces significant challenges and comes to realizations about what she is and how to deal with the troubles she and her friends face. And that they are stronger together.

As with the last book, this has a nice conclusion but it also leaves the door open for the next book. Things are about to get even more intense, and I'm here for it.

Another book I'd love to see made into movies. And I just checked and it's going to be optioned for a tv series in the UK. This pleases me. Sadly, the next book is the last book. But all good things come to an end.

Highly recommend!

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Fury of Obsession by Coreene Callahan

Fury of Obsession (Dragonfury, #5)Fury of Obsession by Coreene Callahan
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook of this and I was underwhelmed. At first I was excited since it's interracial. The heroine is a beautiful, dark-skinned African American woman and the hero is a dragon shifter (Caucasian in human form) from Eastern Europe. I still dug that about the story even though I was overall disappointed.

I think that the major issue is that it was too derivative for me. I love the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and I like that it's had an impact on paranormal romance, but I would like to see an author inspired by these books to take to some diversions in storytelling that make their story more unique. While the author chose to inhabit her story with dragons of all kind, which was very cool, I felt like the style of storytelling, the number of subplots, and the set up of the group that Venom fights with is way too similar to the Brotherhood. There are characters that you can identify as certain BDB characters. Also, I feel that there is a lot of similarity to the Midnight Breed series by Lara Adrian.

Another issue I have with the story is the dropped plotlines. At the beginning of the book Evelyn is in trouble with some Russian gangsters. It's like that all goes away. I was really confused about that. And some of the point of views I could deal without. I don't mind if we see the villain's POV somewhat, but not if they're not that interesting. I would rather have a scene where Venom kicks the crap out of the Russian gangster.

The plot resolution suffered and failed to impress me. It was very anticlimactic. When the book ended, I was like, that's it? Yeah, I was pretty disappointed with this. I'm interested in the one character who reminds me of John Matthew before his transition, I think his name in Osgood. I'd definitely read his book.

Overall thoughts:

The dragon aspect, good.
Romance: pretty good. Sort of an instaluv vibe, but I can live with that.
Characters: Mostly forgettable.
Plotting: poor. Too many storylines.
Narration: I give the narrator some points for enthusiasm and style, but his Scottish accent was ferociously bad. Some of his European accents sounded like a campy version of Vlad Tepes aka Dracula. But I liked him despite that. He was having fun and that made me have fun.

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0 stars.

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Zero Day by David Baldacci

Zero Day (John Puller, #1)Zero Day by David Baldacci
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of the Will Robie series, so I thought I'd try the John Puller books. Plus action/adventure and suspense fans really recommend this series. John Puller is more like Jack Reacher than Will Robie. He's enlisted army and he's an investigator of crime scenes with military ties. His father is a three star general and his brother is in max security prison for treason. John is a by the books guy who follows the evidence. He is a decorated combat veteran with PTSD, but he manages to work past the flashback and triggers and uses the lessons he learned in Iraq to stay alive.

What seems like it should be a routine investigation into the murder of an Air Force officer and his family in one in a dying mining town in West Virginia leads to a conspiracy that goes much further and wider, and much deadlier.

Baldacci can write. John Puller is man of great self-control but he is no pushover. He can handle himself and is no fool. Highly intelligent and methodical in his work, he thinks on his feet and uses his logic and intuition expertly. I listened to the audiobook and the male narrator nails Puller. His diction is precise in speaking John's dialogue, making him feel distinct from other characters. The female narrator also does a good job, especially with the regional dialects. I liked having both a male and female narrator, because it gives the audiobook flow a vibrant energy.

The descriptions of the forgotten mining town and its citizens in comparison to the luxury enjoyed by the rich man who owns most of the town has a realism that grounds the story. The theme of broken promises and environmental rape and pillage, taking advantage of the workers and the townspeople for that extra dime in the pocket.

The suspense is expertly written. What starts as a grisly murder of a family that seems completely random leads to a climax that puts the lives of John, Samantha, the town sheriff, and the whole town and perhaps the region in jeopardy. The clock is ticking while Puller works to solve the puzzle of who, what, where and why.

The action is very good and it's balanced by a plot that is free of holes. I play a game when I read mysteries, trying to guess whodunit. I didn't guess this one, but fortunately John figures it out.

At first glance, John seems to be a very rigid guy, but glimpses of a sense of humor, empathy, pathos and vulnerability shine through his tough facade. His principles are rock solid, and it's clear that he doesn't like bullies or those who harm innocents. He's not moved by people who try to use their power and influence as bargaining chips. To him, bad is bad, no matter how big their bank accounts are. His relationship with his father is nuanced. His father is suffering from dementia and it's clear that interacting with his father through his fog of memory loss is very painful for John. But he's a man of duty and loyalty and honors his father, even when it's hard for him. I like John a lot. I'll be adding him to list of Kickbutt heroes.

I prefer Will Robie over John Puller, but I definitely enjoyed this book and plan on continuing to read it. It's just me, I like the Black Ops Asssassin trope a lot. But Puller is great for a procedural with a hero who is intellectual but also very capable of kicking butt. I think the mystery of Puller's brother Robert's treason a mystery worth delving into, and eventually I know that John will put his skills to work on it. John is a good 21st Century hero, a man of honor, integrity, intellect but also physical skills and capabilities that carry him through and make him an interesting and admirable lead character.

I'd recommend this to action/adventure suspense fans, especially for those look for an NCIS-style book.

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Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Antigoddess (Goddess War, #1)Antigoddess by Kendare Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this back in September and I'm just now able to write a review. I really dug this book, well at least until the abrupt ending. If you're a fan of Greek Mythology, I'd consider it a must read. Blake does something very interesting with Greek myths and legends. It has some elements of reincarnation, which is normally a turnoff for me, but it was fairly well accomplished in the book. Well, one aspect was disturbing, the character had to die violently to recall who they were in their previous life.

Largely, this was a really exciting read. I haven't been reading much young adult lately because I'm not interested in high school life anymore. The good thing about this book is, these characters are technically teens, but most of the main characters are reincarnated personages from the Greek myths, so they act a lot more mature and have interests and concerns far beyond typical high school drama.

There are some unanswered questions, which I think is a standard tactic of a writer who's putting together a series. I just wish it wasn't so overused. Frankly, I get tired of the whole, "Keep Reading" tactic.

Another issue was Blake sort of picks and chooses which gods/goddesses she'll feature and to what degree. It's up to her as the author, but that was a bit of a letdown how she represented some of them. The curses or fates of some of the gods/goddesses were maliciously creative, and I won't even go into them, because that's part of the fun. I felt that overall the characterization is very strong for the main leads, not as much for the secondary and villainous characters. I especially liked the way that Blake humanized the ancient god/goddess figures and endowed the human (sort of) reincarnated characters with such depth.

Hera is always portrayed as a mega-bitch in just about everything. I've never been into Hera, but in a way it seems kind of sad that her reputation is so low. I would want to feel sorry for her, honestly, seeing as how she's the wife that's been cheated on by her lothario husband for many millennia. But she's always scheming and making peoples' lives miserable. In this she gets an update as a fashion forward Queen B who would fit right in with the One Percenters.

Athena and Hermes have strong points of view as they travel looking for the reincarnation of the person who could be the key to stopping the god or goddess behind the curse that is slowly killing them. They encounter high school student Cassandra, who is the key to their plan, and whose life and family is about to be in terrible danger, because Hera is headed her way.

This book has fantastic action and arresting imagery. The opening scene is the hook that grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I knew I wanted to finish this book just with the beginning. I just wish the ending wasn't so abrupt. I can't tell you how much of a buzzkill that is when you are reading a great book and then it sort of fizzles out. Maybe fizzle isn't the right word. This book goes from atomic explosion to the sizzle when you throw water on a campfire. I was confused at how fast things resolved. Having said that, I was hoping my library would have book two.

Yeah, so I'm giving it four stars because it really is a very good book. I wasn't happy with the ending, so that's why I took off a star. Despite that, I was really excited about this book and I could hardly put it down. This is one I think would make a great movie. Maybe someday soon.

I wanted to like "Anna Dressed in Blood" a lot more than I did. It was good, but it felt too derivative of popular horror movies for my tastes. I think that based on this novel, Blake has grown as an author, and I'm really excited to see where she goes from here.

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Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Carter & LovecraftCarter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The Early 20th Century writer HP Lovecraft has spawned a whole sub-genre of horror dedicated to his ideas, often called the Cthulhu Mythos or Lovecraftian horror. Not surprising that nearly 100 years later, people are still re-imagining his work and characters. "Carter and Lovecraft" is a different spin on Lovecraft. What if Lovecraft, frankly a huge bigot and racist, had descendants of color and one of them ran a bookshop? What if one of his recurring characters, Randolph Carter, actually existed, and his descendant was a police officer? And they team up in a story? Well, that's this book.

Daniel Carter is a detective who has lived through the trauma of his partner killing himself in front of him after they rescue a kid from a serial killer. His last words referring to "the twist". Carter resigns from the police and becomes a private detective. Shortly thereafter, he inherits a bookstore from a person he never knew in Providence, Rhode Island. When he goes down there, he meets Mina Lovecraft, an African American woman who runs the bookstore for her uncle, who disappeared months ago and has been heard from since. Around the same time, Carter is hired on a case that leads to some very strange murders committed by a rogue mathematician. Could all these things be related? Yes.

So this is a very strange book. It's relatively short, but there's a lot here to chew on. Howard knows his Lovecraft. This book is full of nuggets and easter eggs for Lovecraftian enthusiasts. I was encouraged to look up some elements of the story, and it gets deep into the Mythos. I think he captured the aspect of Lovecraft in that you feel like you have no idea about what's going on and you probably won't find out. He also touches on the visceral horror that is integral to Lovecraft. In some ways, he develops some aspects of the Mythos better. His characters are more fleshed out and are used as more than devices to spread the feeling of fear and fatalism about an indifferent universe. He picks up some concepts and themes from some of Lovecraft's stories and creates a new story out of them set in the 21st Century.

But my favorite part is how Howard subversively dissects Lovecraft's bigotry and racism. Mina is a descendant would have done Lovecraft proud if he could get past his white supremacy and racism. She's thoughtful, intelligent, emotionally stable, well-read, and loyal and very strong. She had a matter-of-fact approach to weirdness, which is enviable, considering some of the events that happen in this family. She seems to be the antidote to Lovecraft's claustrophobic fear of the Other and conviction that some people are just genetically inferior.

Daniel Carter is a good co-lead. He's a decent guy. As a cop, he tends to be a skeptic about things, but in the face of weirdness, he doesn't shut down, he follows the lead. I like that he had to confront his own hidden prejudices and comes out a better man after he did so. He does feel at times the helplessness in the face of events beyond their comprehension that is emblematic of Lovecraft's protagonists, but doesn't give into and doesn't allow it to break his mind.

There's a developing connection between Carter and Lovecraft, but it's nascent. They become friends, and its likely what they go through will only strengthen that bond. It is possible that things may become romantic over time. But more importantly, they know that they have each others' backs.

Of course, there had to be some weird people, because it's Lovecraft. The rogue mathematician, the Waites, femme fatales who are simultaneously sexy but also deeply wrong, and their brain dead spouses, the mysterious lawyer who informs Carter of the bequest. Enough to make any reader feel uneasy about everything.

So why the 3.5/5.0 star rating? The main feeling I came out of this was "What did I just read?" It feels short to me. It was a book that kept my interest, and I liked the main characters, but I also felt like there was a lot that I didn't get or understand when it ended. There are some gruesome elements to this story and subject matter that made me uncomfortable. This one is not for young readers. Frankly, I was a bit disturbed by some imagery. The rogue mathematician who discovers a way to manipulate reality is a profoundly damaged individual lacking in morals. His acts are unconscionable and bizarrely cruel. To him, murder is manipulating the odds. It's always hard to read about people like this for me.

Readers who like having the questions will enjoy this book. I think I would have preferred a longer book that delved a little deeper into those unanswered questions. This is going to be a series, so maybe things will be more fleshed out in later books. I like the main characters and the concept, so I'll keep reading.





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In A Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu

In a Glass DarklyIn a Glass Darkly by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was the Goodreads Classic Horror Lovers Tales to Chill Your Blood group read in October 2017. I listened to it on Kindle. This volume contains five stories:

"Green Tea"
"The Familiar"
"Mr. Justice Harbottle"
"The Room in the Dragon Volant"
"Carmilla"

I will go through and discuss each story separately.

"Green Tea"--I have read this story before. It's interesting, although the way it's written is a bit on the dry side. It's told with detachment, which I suppose makes sense as it's told through letters written by Dr. Martin Hesselius, a paranormal investigator. The interesting component was the concept of green tea as a substance that can cause a person's third eye to open and to allow them to see into the spirit world. The unfortunate clergyman who is the focus of the story is able to see a monkey that continues to haunt him until it drives him crazy. It could have been more suspenseful, honestly. 3 stars

"The Familiar"--A psychological horror story about a man who is being haunted by a figure from his past as a sea captain. Another use of the trope of a person being driven mad by his perception of something no one else can see. I was not particularly impressed by this story. 2.5 stars

"Mr. Justice Harbottle"--a story about a judge who is haunted by the spirits of those he wrongly condemned to death. Nice build of suspense. I think the writing is much better in this story than "Green Tea" and "The Familiar". Ironically, I read the original version of this story, "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street" (1853) out of another ghost story volume I was reading in October. I like that it deals with the concept of spiritual consequences for the wrong that one does, even when the person seems to be powerful in this life. The judge was not just a corrupt official, but he was also a degenerate who treated those around him poorly. 4 stars

"The Room in the Dragon Volant"--This is more of a suspense story. It reminds me of something Robert Louis Stevenson might have wrote. It's one of the longer stories in the volume, with some involved storytelling. It's not a ghost or horror story, although there initially appears to be supernatural elements. Lots of nice twists in the story that did impress me. 4 stars

"Carmilla"--Another reread for me. A very famous novella about a female vampire with some very obvious homoerotic overtones. Carmilla chooses exclusively female victims and uses her allure to develop their attraction to her. Carmilla is a create of simultaneous seductiveness and repulsion to her newest victim, Laura. Readers can plot this story out and see over time that there is something very wrong about Carmilla. The story builds to an exciting climax as Laura's father and other concerned parties work to deal with the evil vampire. This is old school vampire horror. Carmilla is the bad guy. Readers who enjoy the romantic angle cannot escape the fact that Carmilla is a sexual predator who is endangering the life of Laura. This was written during the Victorian age, in which sexual values were highly pruritanical, so it couldn't have been written any other way without national outrage. However, it was a night springboard for plenty of later vampire stories that focused more of the erotic aspects and less on the evil monster component. First time I read this, I found the flowery descriptions tedious. I enjoyed this a lot more this time around, maybe because I listened to the narration. 4 stars.

Overall, I would give this 3.5 stars, which is an average of my individual ratings. Le Fanu is a good writer, but his style isn't my personal favorite. He's not the most active writer and I don't find his writing particularly scary (other than a couple of moments in Carmilla). However, he has some interesting ideas and concepts and his storytelling has been influential to the genre of classic horror.

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The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last WishThe Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The Last Wish" is a collection of stories about Geralt Rivia, the Witcher, whose occupation is to deal with monsters. This is a frame story in which other stories are the memories that the protagonist recalls as he recovers from a nearly fatal wound.

Readers who enjoy dark fantasy, fables, and fairy tales will love this book. The author retells some well-known fairy tales with ingeunity, such as "Beauty and the Beast" , "Sleeping Beauty," "Rapunzel", and "Snow White", and he also offers unique twists on ancient Eastern European legends such as the strigoi and rusalka, jinn, and even the Fair Folk, Fae or Elves. Some stories are pretty scary, and some are fairly humorous. Some have a little of both. All are written with loving care, with emotional depth, and plenty of action scenes.

Geralt, in my mind, is a hero, but he might be considered an antihero as well. I think he's a hero because he has a very good moral compass, and he makes tough decisions for the overall good. He's not driven by greed, but instead a desire to help people. But he also shows empathy and isn't unncessarily cruel. Even as a monster hunter, he doesn't kill them indiscriminately. His BS detector is well-honed as he deals with crooked humans who want to manipulate him. He's a well-developed character who struggles with the issues all humans face, despite his superhuman qualities.

This series is begging to be a movie, or even better, a cable network series. A thoroughly enjoyable read. I'm excited to continue this series.

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Victorian Frightenings, Volume I Anthology

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I had taken notes when I read this, but I didn't have the time. I found this enjoyable. There's a little bit of everything. There are some widely recognized classics in the horror genre here: "The Judge's House by Bram Stoker, "The Upper Berth" by F. Marion Crawford. Also stories by famous authors that might be lesser known, such as "The Lady Maid's Bell" by Edith Wharton, "Madam Crowl's Ghost" by JS Le Fanu. I didn't love all the stories, but generally they were all good quality. The best stories are probably the first ones: "Thurnley Abbey", a ghost story with a hefty dose of psychological horror, and I admit it did make me giggle. It deals with how a skeptic deals with facing something beyond his perception.. Also, "The Room in the Tower" by EF Benson, about a man haunted by a horrible woman in a portrait. This was very creepy! The last two stories, "The Torture of Hope" by Villiers d I'Isle-Adam and "The Iron Shroud" by William Mudford are more like contes cruel. The former about a man who is imprisoned and allowed to believe he has escaped, only to find it was just a cruel way to torment him by his captors. The latter, about a man who is forced to face his own execution in his prison cell. It ends abruptly and makes the reader feel acutely uncomfortable. I don't like the way "The Judge's House" ends, but it's definitely a very effective ghost story with some real understanding of supernatural evil in that a horrible person's essence retains the malevolence it had in life. I listened to this on Kindle and that was a very fun way to experience these stories. It's well deserving of a four star rating.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three, Vol. 2 by Brian Buccellato,(Writer), Bruno Redondo (Illustrations), Mike S. Miller (Illustrations)

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three, Vol. 2Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three, Vol. 2 by Brian Buccellato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I felt like this was very short but eventful. Superman is no longer neutralized, and he's madder than ever. Constantine is up to his scheming at maximum levels. I liked that this one had lots of magic in it. Injustice messes with my head, because Superman is a terrible and formidable villain. Wonder Woman as well. Ugh, her crush on Superman has made her into a terrible dupe. I am and always will be Team Batman, just saying. The body count is always high in this series, and I hate that people fall in with an authoritarian because he know how to manipulate fear (sounds familiar with the current situation in the US right now). I will finish this because I want to know how this ends. But I will be holding my breath and gritting my teeth the whole time.

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Wonder Woman, Volume 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka, et al

Wonder Woman, Volume 1: The LiesWonder Woman, Volume 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good rebirth/reboot of Wonder Woman. It introduces a character who I would consider Wonder Woman's arch-nemesis, although their relationship is very complicated, Cheetah aka Barbara Minerva. Also, Steve Trevor plays a big role.

I loved the artwork. While nice, the cover art doesn't live up to the wonderful illustration inside the book.

Greg Rucka is an excellent writer, and his skills are beautifully displayed in this volume. His understanding of what makes the characters tick is evident. He gets Diana, Steve and Barbara. He also examines our society in which the lives of girls and women are disregarded as not valuable, especially if they don't serve some usefulness. Barbara's character arc shows the damage that a misogynistic culture can do to a person.

I also liked how this volume delves into the Greek mythology aspects of Diana's heritage. Her father is not who she thought he was. She also realizes that the Amazons have kept secrets from her. This leads to her sense of disillusionment. Also this book explores Diana's relationship with Steve. Although I not-so-secretly ship Diana and Bruce, WonderBat, I like her and Steve together. I think the problem is that Steve is a soldier and is entrenched in the human world, whereas Diana is immortal and pretty much a demigoddess, which puts a time limit on their relationship, and they're still trying to figure all out that out.

I'm pretty happy with this first book in the Rebirth series of Diana. This is the best Wonder Woman comic I've read so far. Looking forward to reading more.

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Suicide Squad, Volume 4: Kill Anything Tim Seeley (Goodreads Author) , Juan Ferreyra (Illustrations), Sean Ryan (Writer)

New Suicide Squad, Volume 4: Kill AnythingNew Suicide Squad, Volume 4: Kill Anything by Tim Seeley
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good conclusion to this run of Suicide Squad. It's very frenetic and wild. It's hard to keep up with what's going on. Waller fans will like this volume because she gets to show how badass she is in the field. I wish I remembered more, since it's been forever since I read this. If you want to read modern Suicide Squad, then this is pretty decent, but I preferred the previous series.

Edited since this morning: I remember this. It involves a cult of death, and that was a pretty cool idea. Lots of crazy types stuck in a castle, trying to kill each other. Now that I think about it, this is my favorite in this run.

Pro tip: Don't wait three months to write a book review.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

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Justice League, Volume 8: Darkseid War Pt II by Geoff Johns et al

Justice League, Volume 8: Darkseid War, Part 2Justice League, Volume 8: Darkseid War, Part 2 by Geoff Johns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is by far the darkest Justice League book I've read at this point. Darkseid is bad enough, but if he had offspring with a disgraced Amazon, you can imagine how bad that would turn out. Everyone of the JL has serious issues, and there are some fatalities. So much happens, and it's been a while since I read this, so I'm going by my memory. It was very good, lots of action, very dark as I said earlier. I really like how the Crime Syndicate from Earth One shows up. They are so deliciously twisted.

I think Geoff Johns is a good writer. He draws you into the story and his writing melds well with the art. Sometimes I get lost trying to interpret what the panels are doing in some books. I didn't feel that way with this one, even with all the drama that's going on.

A lot of big surprises in this one, and some really great cameos. Unlikely heroes show up, and the big dependable heroes seem humbled in this. I would recommend it, despite the fact that it's very chaotic in some ways.

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Wonder Woman: Earth One by Grant Morrisson (writer), Yanick Paquette (Artist), Nathan Fairbairn (Colourist), Todd Klein (Letterer)

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Vol. 1Wonder Woman: Earth One, Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was kind of weird. It was a skewed version of the Wonder Woman origin story, but instead of their patron goddess being Hera, it's Aphrodite. You can imagine how that could change a few things. It has a lot more overt sapphic tones than I've seen with Wonder Woman (but hardly surprising or shocking). I mean its a Utopian all female society, so why wouldn't the women pair up together as partners and lovers? I was fine with that. I think some of their rituals were on the verge of kinky if I'm honest. I've always been leery of sex and violence together thought.

I did like that Steve Trevor was black in this version. The relationship that Diana has with him is undefined. Since Wonder Woman has a lover already, I wasn't sure that there were any romantic undertones in her relationship with Trevor as it was written.

When Diana comes to the world of men, she is portrayed as very dominant with an edge of cruelty. I didn't love that about her characterization. I don't see Diana as being that kind of person.

The storyline where she encounters the sorority girls on a wild spring break trip and bonds with a particular girl was a bit odd. I know it was a way to group Diana and teach her the ways of the modern world. I didn't much care for it.

Honestly, I was glad this is Earth One. While I didn't mind the aspect of Diana being queer, and I liked that Steve was black, I didn't care for other aspects of the storyline. It wasn't terrible, so I would still give this three stars.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Samurai Game by Christine Feehan

Samurai Game (Ghostwalkers, #10)Samurai Game by Christine Feehan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

3rd Reread Completed in October 2017.:

I think that Azami is one of Feehan's more complex GhostWalker heroines. She is definitely the most tortured. Like physically and emotionally. Whitney used her for experiments and operated on her repeatedly and then literally threw her away. She rose like a phoenix from the ashes, which is why her tattoo is so appropriate. I love how badass she is. Not only badass, but also very calm and soothing and has a sense of peace that took many years of discipline to cultivate. I think she's perfect for Sam.

Sam is such a sweetie. I love him. He's definitely lethal and capable of kicking butt big time, but he's also like a big cuddly teddy bear. He's so loyal. I was so glad to see he got a good heroine.

I loved how Sam and Azami connected deeply, and one couldn't even say it was because Whitney paired them. They share a history of having grown up in trouble surroundings and being adopted, and a craving for a real sense of family and home. It makes me so happy that they are together.

I like how much of the action in this book is Azami on her mission to cut off Whitney's espionage supply pipeline. She is ruthless about taking out her enemies, but I'm not mad at her.

One thing that bothered me this time as much as the last, Feehan barely mentions that Sam is African American. I would have liked more references to his skin color just as it was important to get a clear image of him in my head. I made up my own image. However, someone who picked up this book first probably wouldn't even know Sam was black.

As always, I love seeing Team One work together and joke around. I like how Feehan takes the time to introduce some characters she hadn't featured before, like Jonas and Kyle. I liked how much Ryland, Gator, Tucker, Nico, and Ian were in this, not to mention the ladies such as Saber, Lily, and Flame.

I never get enough of these book. This completes the reread of the books I have already read at least twice. Now I'm moving onto Viper Game, for my first reread.

2nd Reread Completed in April 2015. I wanted to revisit the GhostWalkers before I read Viper Game. And let's face it, I start getting withdrawal pains when I spend too long away from the GhostWalkers. I'm obsessed.

My thoughts this time around:

I just plain love this book. I mean, it's nothing special amongst the other books, but I really felt the love between Azami and Sam. I think even though they only knew each other for a short period, and they couldn't have been paired on both sides, it was just a synergy between them that made my true romantic heart feel warm and fuzzy. They make such a good pair, and Sam happened to put into words, they just fit together. Their relationship was deeply romantic and appealingly sensual. Those of us who have followed Team One's GWs, I don't think they could be dissatisfied at seeing Sam get his woman.

I love them just as much as individuals. Sam is so fantastic. He's such a good guy. Smart as a whip, lethal as a ninja and sweet as a puppy. That is my kind of combination. This is one of those heroes that I often wish "Why can't I have a guy like that?" It doesn't happen much. I usually view romance as escapism, and it's not wish fulfillment for me, if I'm honest. More than anything, I'm more in love with love. But, yeah, Sam is 100% on my personal compatibility scale. I think out of all the GhostWalkers, he's probably the one I feel like I would be a good match with in real life. But enough of that!

Azami, I have a serious girl crush on her. She's freaking lethal, but elegant and demure. She's highly intelligent, but has no desire to showboat about it. And she's a serious survivor. Out of all the crap that Whitney did in his experimentation with the GhostWalkers, he committed the most atrocities to her. But it didn't break her, she was reborn as a samurai. There is something about a woman warrior that I just love. While I don't have a tendency towards being a warrior in real life, I truly love that aspect of a woman. Yes, I admit I have a secret desire to be a ninja that never went away. Azami's secret assaults on Whitneys organization were long in coming. He things she's thrown away and probably dead, but she's the real ghost who is going to give him his reckoning.

I do believe this book is slightly more action-focused than the previous book. While Feehan goes in detail with some of the operational information, I liked that. I'm sort of geeky about special ops stuff.


I could probably rave more, but I don't want to repeat myself over what I said on my last read. I can say that it definitely stands up to a reread. Sadly, it makes me want to start the series all over again, but I lack the time for it. :)

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Original Review:
I was so sad to finish this book. I love visiting with the GhostWalkers in any capacity, and the arrival of the long lost Thorn (now called Azami) was desperately appreciated. Sam is a sweetheart while clearly maintaining his capable and lethal identity as an enhanced soldier. He is a very calm, together person. I think in some ways, the quiet heart of Team One. From the other books he seemed courtly and down to earth, eminently huggable. It's nice to see more dimensions to him and to see his love story unfold.


Hanging out with Team One again was awesome. And getting to meet the incredibly gifted and advanced Daniel was a real pleasure. He's going to make life very interesting for his parents and the Teams. Also, it was nice seeing Ryland in the field again. I missed seeing him kick some butt. The Team is not just a well-oiled military team, but a close-knit brotherhood/family.

While there is definitely an insta-love vibe between Sam and Thorn, it works for them. I could and do believe in their love. Sam and Azami connect on an intellectual, physical and emotional level. Sam has always kept a part of himself separate from others (despite his tight bonds with the other members of Team One and their wives), and when Azami comes along, she finds her way into the deeper parts of him very quickly. He wants to be her protector, although this lethal woman is more than capable of taking care of herself and others. Sam sees the wounds that Whitney's experiments have left on Azami's psyche and body and it only makes her more beautiful to him, not the broken, unwanted person she fights to leave behind. I loved that Azami is a samurai warrior in every way. I also loved her demure, together, composed demeanor. Despite her calm, she is a very passionate, deep person. She has a lot of strength to survive what she endured from Whitney's heinous experiments, rising like a phoenix from the ashes. The tattoos she wears are very representative of her journey and her psyche. I have to admit, I wish I had gotten to see her go to town with a katana (I'm a martial arts freak, so forgive!), but she proves her lethal skill in many ways, as much as ninja assassin as a samurai (and for a girl who has always thought ninjas were freaking awesome, that worked for me). I liked what I saw of her brothers, and honestly would like to see more.

I am very curious to see where the conspiracy will go next with Whitney and Violet. It looks like there's going to be a game-changer on this front. Azami is going to be a real asset in this arena, with her intel into Whitney, and her resources as a Yoshiie. She probably hates Whitney more than all of the other GhostWalkers combined, and with good reason. Whitney made a huge mistake underestimating her and the other GhostWalker women, not to mention the strong bond between the GhostWalkers. His reckoning is coming, although I don't want to see this series end any time soon.

This book felt too short. I was enjoying it so much, when it ended, I was like, "Oh, no!" I would have been happy with seventy-five more pages, easy. It's like leaving a gathering of your favorite people when these books end, knowing you might not get to spend time together again for a while. I really don't want to wait a year for another installment. It's going to be a long wait. I think I will end up rereading this book to experience more of Sam/Azami's love story and the GhostWalkers yummy goodness.

It's hard to say how I felt about this book, other than loving it and smiling most of the time as I read. The action was hardcore and fierce, and the loving was intense and beautiful, deeply emotional. Despite that satisfaction I felt reading it, I fight a pervasive feeling of sadness because it's over and I don't want to leave this world. I guess I need therapy for my GhostWalkers addiction! That's all I can say right now! Another thumbs up from this die-hard GhostWalkers fan.

*This might be a first draft for this review as my feelings coalesce into something coherent.*

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The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne

The Hunter (Victorian Rebels, #2)The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate that I am so late writing this review. It's in no way a reflection on this book, because I loved it. Christopher Argent is the real deal. He is in every way a lethal assassin. Yes he really does almost kill Millie. But he can't do it. Something about her, he just can't. They form a bond that is terribly inconvenient to Christopher, he's a damaged soul who has vowed not to love anyone or anything since he lost his mother in such a horrible way. He is rich beyond calculation, has a fearsome reputation, is at the top of his game as an assassin, but inside he's a prisoner. He is truly a tortured hero in every way. I love tortured heroes. I love dangerous heroes. I love assassins. And he's a redhead. Bingo! It's Christmas.

Millie is a great heroine. She's strong and intelligent and loving and determined. She's able to work past her fears or rejection and rightfully fear of being with a cold, ruthless man like Christopher, to try to reach his heart. He's the man for her and she knows it very quickly. The question is how to conquer his arctic heart and soul.

Kerrigan Byrne knows how to write a spicy romance that will burn the pages up. She doesn't disappoint in this book. However, because Christopher is so damaged, it takes a while for them to get intimate and even longer before it's truly satisfying. I liked how she shows the ice melting around his heart, and how it's a painful process, much like when one has frostbite and hypothermia and must be warmed slowly. Millie is so good about giving Christopher space, but not giving up on him. She also has some wounds of the soul, but in contrast, she has gotten healing for her wounds. And she has her adorable son who anchors her and gives her a reason for being.

The action is very good and the villains are very evil. There are some quite violent moments. Nothing gory, but it's done in a way that cements the authenticity of the dangerous world that Argent lives in, and the seriousness of the thread that Millie is facing. I loved seeing Farah and Dorian from The Highwayman, and we get to meet the heroine for the next book The Highlander. I confess I read that one first, so I'm excited to look back and see where Mena came from. Her story is very sad. I'm glad she gets her happy ending in the next book.

If you're a historical romance fan and you're not reading this series, you need to rectify that immediately. This is a great series. I've loved every book I've read. Dangerous heroes and strong, intelligence, loving heroines in an authentic historical setting with plenty of action and intrigue. Oh and some hot loving. What more can you ask for?

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I reread this for the Classics for Beginners group read via the Audible audiobook narrated by Hope Davis. The audio format was a good idea. I was able to do other things and still experience the story again as an adult. While it definitely feels of the time period it was written, it didn't feel that dated to me. I will divide my comments into sections because that seems like a good approach for this book.

Characters

The characterization is in my opinion the focus of this novel. The main characters include Meg Murry, her younger brother Charles Wallace, Calvin O'Keefe, a slightly older boy that goes to Meg's school, and the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Secondary characters include Meg's mother and father and brothers, and the various beings that they encounter on their journey.

Meg's characterization is complicated. At times she is unlikable because she tends to be moody and somewhat whiny. This is understandable, to a great degree, considering how her father disappeared and she misses him, and also her awkwardness as a person. Meg is brilliant when it comes to mathematics, but her social abilities are lacking.

Calvin is a character that balances Meg in very good ways. Calvin is a young man of words and communication. His ability to get along with everyone is crucial on their journey. He is able to understand people and talk to them on their level. And he's a very humane person. He takes the time to understand that brilliant people often don't bother with.

Charles Wallace is a special young boy. His intelligence is off the charts, frankly eerie. This never explained. However, his unique persona is at the crux of this novel. The great evil that they encounter happily tries to exploit his specialness for its own purpose.

Mrs. Whatsit, Who and Which are strange ladies that Charles Wallace and Meg become acquainted with, and help them on their journey to find their father. They seem like eccentric women but they are so much more. The relationship that Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin develops with them is one of loving support.

Meg's mother Katherine was not in this book very much. I wish we had seen her viewpoint more, but that wasn't the goal of the author. Meg's father Alexander plays a bigger role, but he is more ancillary compared to the three kids. He is their motivation and he's the catalyst for the story. The two twins Sandy and Dennys are used more as a contrast to Meg and Charles Wallace, because they are the relentlessly normal offspring in the family.

The evil beings in this novel are nebulous, not really explained, but definitely threatening. I think there are some very philosophical aspects that go alone with the concept of evil in this story that will attempt to delve into shortly.

There's another character that I can't get into without spoiling this review, so I will just say that Meg encounters a being who becomes a bit of an analogue for her mother and father. She connects to this being and gets a necessary sense of acceptance and caring that she hasn't experienced for some time due to the situation of her father being gone, her mother also being a scientist and having three other brothers with which she has to share attention.

Plot/Storyline:

This is a science fiction novel with a healthy dose of philosophy and a debatable aspect of religion/spirituality. That last part would depend on a person's viewpoint on the subject. Meg and Charles Wallace are essentially on a journey to find their father, and Calvin comes along for the ride. They travel to other worlds using the concept of tessering. This is something that Meg's mother and father stumbled across, but the Mrs. W know a lot more about doing right. Because this book is written for a younger audience (late tweens to teens), the danger that the kids encounter is there but it's not illustrated in detail. Nevertheless, you get the idea how dire the situation is for the kids.

Themes/Philosophy:

"A Wrinkle in Time" is a novel about family, sacrifice, relationships, and the concepts of good versus evil. I will attempt to explain what I got out of the novel, probably imperfectly.

Being intelligent is a valued commodity. I think that L'Engle seems to want to say that being smart in and of itself brings along with it some challenges and doesn't protect a person from its consequences or solve all the problems that they might have to deal with in their lives. I believe this is well-illustrated through the struggles of Meg, Charles Wallace, and her mom and dad. Dad might be brilliant, but his brilliance alone cannot save Charles Wallace. Mom might be a brilliant microbiologist, but it doesn't mean she is any less lonely or doesn't struggle with being the sole caregiver to a young family of four children. Meg might be a math genius, but it doesn't make her excel in school or get along better with others. On the other hand, Calvin is a well-balanced person who is intelligent in his way, but also has emotional intelligence and is gifted with needed communication skills.

Meg shows how we must conquer our fears and do what needs doing in spite of them. Sometimes we go into situations knowing we are out of our depth, but this is inevitable. We have to just be present and do what needs doing, and if we're blessed that's enough. Meg also illustrates how we can strike out in our pain at others because of our suffering. With maturity comes the understanding that we all have struggles, and hurting others because we're in pain never achieves what we desire. She learns to temper her fears and frustrations and to focus on the goals and objective. I think that's a very good lesson for people of all ages.

Charles Wallace shows the cost of arrogance. He thought that because he was crazy intelligent and very unique, that would be all he needed to conquer the enemy, but it only got him into a worse situation. Arrogance can definitely write checks that we can't cash.

The concepts of spirituality are present in this novel. Many times, characters quote Bible verses. The true nature of some of the character makes me think of celestial and demonic beings. The theme of self-sacrifice, agape love, and sacrificial love is at the heart of Christian ethos. I don't think anyone could deny that these definitely point to the Christian faith of the author L'Engle. However, she doesn't force a telescopic view of the world through Christian theology on the reader. She cites and includes some philosophic concepts that more orthodox-thinking Christians would have a hard time with. She doesn't put Christians on a higher level in society than non-Christians who have also made important contributions. Also, science is a big part of this novel. On a personal level, I didn't find a belief in scientific concepts incongruous with spiritual belief, but this is not the case with fundamentalist Christian believers. For that reason, they would not like this book. Also, narrow thinking Christians won't like the idea that the Mrs. seem like kindly old witches.

Some Shortcomings of This Novel:

I would still give this five stars because I still love this book and it's also from nostalgia of when I read it many years ago. Meg's temper tantrums could be problematic. Also, there is a scene where Charles Wallace is very violent towards his sister that might be upsetting to some readers. The conclusion is a bit too abrupt for my tastes, quite honestly. I've found that to be the case with many books I've read lately. I said earlier in this book that it doesn't feel that dated. I'm sort of wrong in the sense that the concepts of family are very traditional. Meg feels like she can't go on without having her father's presence (as though he is a lodestar for his family). That in itself is not a bad thing, but modern readers who didn't grow up with this sort of family probably wouldn't connect to this. Also, when they go to Camazotz, it feels like "Leave it to Beaver" on steroids. Very traditional, 1950s sort of view of life. There is no allusion whatsoever to multiculturalism or the concept that all families don't look the same. I did like how L'Engle makes a point that this sort of societal design is sterile and kills any kind of ingenuity or joy of living.

Is This Science Fiction?:

That's a question that will inevitably come up for a reader. I think it definitely is science fiction. Google defines science fiction as: "fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets." Under this definition, it would be difficult to argue against this being a science fiction novel. A huge aspect of this novel is the concept of physics and using it to navigate through 'wrinkles' in time. Also, the book involves traveling to other planets and exploring what life on those planets would be like. Also how advanced science technologies would change life as we know it. The thing that might trip up some readers is the equally strong aspect of philosophy to this story. I don't think these two things are mutually exclusive. In fact, they can go hand in hand. Good versus evil is at the root of most good fiction. And this is played out endlessly in everyday life. Sometimes, it's subtle. Many of us can argue that we don't meet truly evil people, but when you do encounter evil, you always know it deep in your gut. If you haven't read this book, you should decide for yourself and let me know what you think of it as a science fiction book.

I would recommend this book to readers who haven't had a chance to explore this book. I liked the audiobook version. Hope Davis is a good narrator, and she acquits herself well in styling each character. Many years after my first reading, it's still one of my favorites.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Daemons are Forever by Simon R. Green

Daemons Are Forever (Secret Histories, #2)Daemons Are Forever by Simon R. Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was brilliant. I believe that's not an overstatement. This second book in the Secret Histories series illustrates that you either like Simon R. Green or you don't. His sense of humor might turn off some readers, and some of the prose can have a repetitive aspect. I think he likes to repeat things for emphasis. I had to look this up. It's called analepsis: repetition of a word or phrase for emphasis. Yeah, Green loves analepsis. As for me, everything I love about him is showcased in this novel. His silly but clever sense of humor. His belief in heroism. His cynical viewpoint of human nature. His understanding of the way people think. His love for fairy tales, mythology, folklore. His ability to write horror in a way that really gets you in the gut. His kooky characterization. It's all here.

The intersection of fantasy and spy literature is very appealing about this book. It's clear that Green loves Bond and can also poke fun at its motifs and conventions in a way that only a Bond fan can. I like that this is a part of the story, but it doesn't stay in pastiche territory. There's a nod to it several times, but Green has something a lot more interesting to explore with this book. He even throws in a little Lovecraftianesque elements.

The story starts with Eddie trying to pull his family back together and get the Droods back on track. He gets a lot of resistance in this endeavor, but Eddie is not the type to give up. He has Molly Metcalfe, the Witch of the Woods at his side, and some help from his uncle Jack, the Armorer. The rest of the Droods are more than happy to watch Eddie fall on his face. Eddie knows what many of us had to figure out for ourselves, family complicates our lives, makes us crazy, but they're family, so you can't just walk away from them, unless you have to.

Eddie decides they need a big bad to fight, so he decides they'll take on the Loathely Ones. I can't tell you more, because so very much happens and you'd have to read it to even get it. So much goes into this one.

I listened to this on audio, and I'm so glad I did. At first I was meh about the narrator. But he won me over but good. He's British, and also talented in voicing many dialects. Each character sounds distinctive, and he even changes the cadence of the speaker. He knows how to build drama, and also inject sarcasm and pathos into the dialogue and prose.

This was awesome action, now shying away from gore, but also quite horrific at times. I think the action balance was better in this one than The Man with the Golden Torc. Green takes more time with the exposition, and that's very crucial with this story. Eddie has a lot of plotting and planning to do, and he can't make these decisions on the fly. The fantasy is solid and the ideas are all over the place, but everything comes together very nicely. I was pretty upset about one character death, and I don't think Eddie is going to take what happened lightly or let it go. Revenge is a dish best served cold. The characters are all interesting, and add something to the story. If you think a character is wasted, keep reading and wait for it.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Eddie and Molly. They challenge each other, support each other, and accept each other, which is crucial, considering who both of them are. I think Eddie would be screwed in many cases without Molly, and while she's very independent, it's clear that Eddie is very important to her.

This is a crap review and I need to recharge my laptop. I'll end it by saying I loved this book and it just makes me love Simon R. Green even more than I already do. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Pirate at Christmas by Anna Campbell

A Pirate for ChristmasA Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book I am mega-late reviewing. I finished this the first of January of this year, although I started it in December. I am huge fan of Anna Campbell, and while I found this enjoyable, it's not nearly as memorable as my favorites by her. It's a good Christmas novella, and it has her distinctive and well developed chemistry between the characters. The hero is a ginger, which is definitely a plus for me as I love gingers. He's also a bit of a bad boy, but a good-hearted sort. He's spent most of his life at sea, so he's adapting to being back on solid ground and being an early. When he meets Bess, he knows she's the woman he's been waiting for, which was another thing I liked about him. He spends almost all of this story wooing her, which means going along with her holiday plans. This helps to get him rooted in the community since he never lived there, having grown up in Scotland. Rory definitely has the manly vibe going for him, and he's just a fundamentally good person. Sometimes you just got to be happy when you see that in a hero. I liked Bess. She was feisty and sweet. She was woman enough to handle Rory, and I liked how she responded to his flirting. She wasn't the type to just fall out of the hero, but gave him enough challenge to make the story interesting. The unfolding of the yearly Christmas Navitity play was fun, especially the spirited donkey who has a pivotal role.

In summary, this was an enjoyable short story to read for Christmas. I wish I had time to read it before Christmas. Hope I do better with that this year.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas

Crystal Cove (Friday Harbor, #4)Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We started this on audio, but I finished it on kindle. I liked this one a lot more than many of Kleypas fans. In fact, I liked it quite a bit. I probably helped that I didn't have high expectations. I liked Justine from the other books, but I wasn't particularly attached to her character. She seemed a bit shallow but kind in the other books. I have the feeling that Kleypas didn't have Justine's character fleshed out initially. She must have spent some time with Justine in between Dream Lake and this book and came up with who we see in Crystal Cove.

As Kleypas continues the magical realism theme in this series, this one is very much "Practical Magic." I love the book and the movie, and Kleypas does it justice, with her own spin. Justine is a hereditary witch. She's not heavily into it, although she does at times do some minor spellwork. Justine realizes that the reason why she's hasn't had luck with love is because her mother cursed her to never fall in love. Justine does a spell of her own to remove the geas. This backfires. In the meantime, she meets Jason Black, a billionaire badboy tech genius who buys up Alex Nolan's land to build a retreat for his business. Jason stays at her inn and there is an instant attraction between them. Jason is the kind of man who is dangerous to a woman. He has no concept of love or commitment. And he has a good reason. He has no soul. I can't say that all of Jason's issues arise out of his souless status. It's moreso due to his abusive father and how he treated his mother. I liked that Jason is part Japanese and this culture is part of who he is. They both share some family trauma. Justine's mother is a horrible person. Jason's dad is a horrible person. Both have been shaped by their horrible parents.

What an interesting combination.

I didnt' really get the whole no soul thing. It was pretty darn real. It doesn't make sense for my own spiritual perspective. But okay, I just went along with it. The witchcraft thing is something that you can idea ignore or embrace, but if it's a hard limit, this isn't the book for that reader. Since Kleypas is going with "Practical Magic", it's hard to not have it in this book.

Like always, Kleypas' writing is beautiful and immersive. Jason has a bit of a kinky thing going on with the bedroom, but it's not out of my personal comfort zone. He has some control issues, and that thing he's into delves into this aspect of his personality. Out of the books in Friday Harbor series, this book is the most sexually explicit, but it makes sense with the characters in the book.

I have to admit, I really believed in the love that developed between Jason and Justine. They are both cynical about love, so it's so beautiful the way it develops between them, and it's a sacrificial love. The conclusion is both strange but also very beautiful.

I liked this book a lot more than I expected. I ended up falling for Justine and Jason. While witchy romance isn't my favorite kind of paranormal romance, I think that Kleypas served up a lovely one here. I definitely preferred this to Rainshadow Road. The character of Jason has so much more substance than Sam, in my opinion. I think I prefer Justine to Lucy as well.

My Friday Harbor Book Preference:

1. Dream Lake
2. Crystal Cove
3. Christmas at Friday Harbor
4. Rainshadow Road

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Beauty Within by Savannah J. Frierson

The Beauty WithinThe Beauty Within by Savannah J. Frierson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been a fan of this author since Trolling Nights. I've had several of her books in my tbr pile and I decided to read this one on my Kindle. I really liked this book. It starts out in an unusual fashion. Tyler and Gunnar do not have good first impressions. In fact, Gunnar is actually a jerk to Tyler when they first meet. Gunnar is a gym owner and he has to take his personal trainer's new client and his current girlfriend had pissed him off and he's not happy about it. His behavior reminds Tyler of her insecurities with her weight.

Gunnar is man enough to admit when he's being a tool. He apologizes and finds that he's very attracted to Tyler. Truth be told, Gunnar never seemed to have an issue with Tyler's weight, but he's willing to help Tyler train to be more healthy since her weight was giving her back problems. As they spend time together, the attraction grows into something much more.

I've heard some of Savannah J. Frierson's readers don't like her insecure heroines. That doesn't bother me. I think that's realistic. Most women are insecure about something about themselves, be it external or internal. I think it makes her heroines relatable. I think that one could argue that her heroes are too perfect, but Gunnar definitely isn't that. He's a good guy and he makes up for being a jerk, but he did behave that way. And his past in LA showed that he was fallible and has made mistakes. I liked both of them. I enjoyed their romance. Their relationship was sexy and romantic. I also liked how the author integrated some real life issues into the story, from poor body image, the impact of broken relationships, drug abuse, and body abuse to fit an unrealistic ideal. It wasn't done in a preachy way, which I appreciated.

I also liked how Gunnar's Swedish heritage was integrated into the story. He would use words from his parents' native language, since he spoke it fluently. Also Tyler's culture as a black Southerner was integral. I liked how Tyler was really close to her sister and the fact that her sister's man worked for Gunnar and was friends with him. Their conversations felt authentic to me. Also, the characters have unique professions. Gunnar is an ex-model and gym owner and Tyler owns and runs a barber shop.

I went through a phase where I read a lot of BBW heroines (big, beautiful women) and I sort of fell out of it. I still like the sub-genre and the fact that a woman could be larger sized and still be appreciated by a man without losing weight. I think this was handled well in the book. Tyler focuses on getting healthy (although she does go in a more unhealthy direction with the weight loss and that is a huge trigger for Gunnar). I think that was good that Frierson factored this in, because it's important to be healthy in losing weight. What I loved the most was that Gunnar appreciated her before she lost weight, and my hope is that Tyler comes to embrace herself in the shape she comes and not focus on an unhealthy ideal.

This isn't my favorite by Frierson, because I love Trolling Nights and Being Plumville so much, but I did enjoy it a lot and would recommend this book to contemporary romance readers, and those interested in interracial romance.

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Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

Rainshadow Road (Friday Harbor, #2)Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I read this book back in the summer, and I never got around to writing the review. If I had a word to describe it, it's charming. At the same time, I can't say either Lucy or Sam would be anywhere near the top of my list of favorite Lisa Kleypas characters or couples. In fact, I did have minor issues with both of them. Sam more than Lucy.

Lucy made me want to yell at her a few times. I didn't get why she let Alice get away with so much, although LK did a good job of explaining the complexities of the sister relationship and the fact that Alice getting away was stuff was doing business as normal. But I wanted Lucy to get Alice told, and she didn't quite do that. Alice is a mega-brat and she needed someone to hold her accountable for the crap she'd done and instigated in her short life, and Lucy wasn't willing to do it. I think Lucy will appeal to a lot of readers, because she does seem like a normal kind of woman (despite her magical abilities).

Sam, well he just comes off as selfish in that he is living his life and that's his thing. His family dysfunction is there, but he was able to escape from it in a way that his other siblings couldn't, I don't think. He had the neighbors to hide out with and they were like grandparents, giving him a sense of safety. Although I read Dream Lake after this, I started to think of these books as a group. Sam lives in the shadow of Alex for me. Sam managed to avoid most of the angst that hit Alex full in the face, so it’s not wonder that Alex is a trainwreck.

I know that a big issue that I have with Sam is his attitudes towards sex and relationships, or lack thereof. He had no desire for a meaningful relationship. Yes, as the child of two alcoholics, that makes sense. I think if he had shown more depth, I could have connected to him and his reasons. I did like that he finally realized how much Lucy meant to him and his gesture was so sweet and authentic.

As far as Sam and Lucy's relationship, it was pleasant. I did believe they loved each other, but it's hard to get too involved in their relationship considering that I didn't have strong feelings for either of them.

I liked the magical elements. It was different and unique. It's subtly done but integral to the storyline. Kleypas doesn't really explain why Lucy has this ability and no one else in her family does. I don't know if it's because of the fact that Alice always got all the attention and this was a gift that belonged her her alone.

I've read all the books in this series, and this is my least favorite. I think it lacks the punch that later books have, and with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, Holly pretty much cinches the story. Holly was in this book and I liked how Sam does connect with Holly, and that is an aspect of the story that gives Sam an added depth.

I have very high standards for Lisa Kleypas. She's been one of my favorite authors, well, for most of my life. I like her foray into something different, and she did it well, but this doesn't stand up well to her other books. Normally most of her heroes turn me into goo, but Sam left me very unmelted.

So, I gave this one 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Shadow Rider by Christine Feehan

Shadow Rider (Shadow, #1)Shadow Rider by Christine Feehan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

An interesting new series for Christine Feehan readers. With everything going on, it took me a long time to finish it. I read most of it on the way home from Illinois when we got back from my grandmother's funeral. I was really sucked in at that point. This one is about a family of people whose shadows are alive and they can manipulate and move the through the shadows/ dark spots around them. Cool idea. I'd give the idea definitely over a four star. The story overall is more like a three and a half. I think it's me. I am not into the mafia vibe. There was a pervasive mafia feel to this book I didn't enjoy. The lead character, Stefano seems like a mafia don, a man of infinite power and who is infinitely adored. But he's in a violent world and capable of extreme violence. I think if there was no paranormal elements, this simply would have been a crime romance about made men in Chicago. It was creepy who everyone bowed down to Stefano and his family and was constantly telling Francesca how lucky she was to be the apple of his eye. I think I would want to get the heck out of there. It could be what's going on right now in the country that has me sensitive to a lot of Kool-aid drinking, but that was a turnoff for me.

The other thing that bothered me was so controlling and rough Stefano was with Francesca. Now I can't say he was abusive. But he was very clearly always the one in control and expected Francesca to go along with this. I'm not into that whole aspect in which the hero is uber dominant and the heroine is submissive to him in every aspect of their relationship. Francesca did have a backbone and she was her own person, but I found her too compliant for my tastes.

I was kind of meh about Stefano. He was hot looking, with the black hair and dark blue eyes (which I really like). I dug how the Ferraros always wore three piece suits and looks damned good in them. But being rich and hot isn't everything. I mean, he's a good guy and takes care of the family and the folks in his neighborhood. And he doesn't take crap. He puts his enemies down hard. He really lost me when he kept going on about how he needed sex and lots of it, but the women didn't mean anything to him. I can't stand when the hero's sexual past in rubbed in the heroine's face. Francesca kept running into Stefano's vindictive hookups and many excuses were made about how it was a nature of the Shadow Riders, but she was special to him and he adored her. Then the dude has the nerve to think about hunting down Francesca's first and only lover other than him and killing him. What. The. Frell? Nope. Yes, I like a possessive hero, but not when he's been there done that and gets irritated because the he isn't the first for the heroine. Double Standard Alarm going off.

Another thing is how raunchy and rough the love scenes have gotten to be in Feehan's books. Very much over the line into erotic. I am not against sex scenes, I just get to the point where it's too much for me. Especially when it's about the hero making all the demands the heroine submitting to him sexually. It doesn't do a thing for me.

I guess there was a good love story. I didn't really connect to that aspect of the book. I was more intrigued with the shadow rider concept and the suspense storyline. Feehan knows how to write a good action and suspense story. I loved the climax. It was on point. When I was about to check out because of all the sex scenes that went on too long, the storyline twisted back to focus on the action and suspense, and I was hooked as before.

This was almost a four star, but the things I complained about above kept it in the 3.5 star range. I really wish Feehan would chill down some of the raunchy love scenes and the must have control in the bedroom aspect. That's getting old. I love a tender lover personally in my romances. If he gets a little wild every now and then, that's cool. But rough 24/7, no thanks. I love the family element and I grew fond of the Ferraro siblings. I'm looking forward to the sister's story with the guy who's in the rival family. My luck, it will probably be the last book in the series. Since it's Feehan and she's like my personal brand of crack, I will read them all.

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Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Dream Lake (Friday Harbor, #3)Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dream Lake Review (finally)

I was excited to read Alex’s story and I was not disappointed. Alex out of all the Nolans grabbed my heart and squeezed it, wouldn’t let it go. Alex has traits that make him my kryptonite. I adored him. He’s tortured and grumpy. He’s described as having a ruined beauty that women can’t resist, but he’s not a womanizer. While having a broken beau is nothing a woman should aspire to in life, broken heroes seem to appeal to me like no other. I loved seeing Alex’s damaged psyche be healed in a realistic way. Kleypas doesn’t take any shortcuts. She shows you all the dark spots on Alex’s soul, even his destructive, unhealthy relationship with his ex-wife, Darcy. While Zoe in herself doesn’t heal Alex, the functionality of their relationship is a sharp contrast to his failed marriage. While Darcy seemed to want to put Alex back on the rails with his drinking, Zoe wants Alex to be whole and healed, not for herself, but for him. When Alex and Zoe meet in Rainshadow Road, it felt like magic to me, and it turned out to be the case. Zoe and Alex are made for each other. Zoe is fairly well balanced. She does have some self-esteem issues due to her extreme beauty and voluptuous physique, and the trauma of being judged for it. To the extent that she marries a man who is gay because he doesn’t objectify her. While Alex is obviously completely blown away by Zoe, he doesn’t treat her like a sex object, and in actuality, tries to push her away because he knows he’s damaged goods. However, the connection between them cannot be ignored. I ate up their falling in love. Enjoyed every scene they had together. Zoe’s major issue is the failing health of her grandmother. Her grandmother has a form of dementia that escalates rapidly, and Zoe takes on the role as caregiver. Alex takes on the job of remodeling the cottage that Zoe’s cousin Justine lets her live in with her grandmother. Their proximity is an excellent opportunity for the powerful emotions between them to blossom. And in seeing each other under their worst situations, they realize that love isn’t about perfection but about loving perfectly.

Kleypas was going for a magical realism theme with this series, and this book reminded me of “Like Water for Chocolate” or “Simply Irresistible” with some “Ghost” thrown in. Zoe’s cooking seems to have healing properties, although I don’t think there was really any magic in it. It was merely a case of the fact that her food was what sustained Alex and tempted him to eat when he was at the lowest point in his alcoholism. The ghost angle comes in with the spirit that attaches himself to Alex, a spirit that lives in the house that Alex’s brother Sam owns and that Alex has taken on restoring. Alex seems driven to restore the house, and the spirit becomes attached to Alex in the process. It’s hate at first sight. The spirit can’t stand Alex, who comes off as a complete misanthrope if not nihilist. It’s Alex’s hero’s journey to heal spiritually and to rid himself of the dark cloud that has surrounded him since his traumatic childhood, being victimized by two violent, unrestrained drunks. I don’t know what Kleypas’ spiritual beliefs are but she see doesn’t shy away from adding a spiritual component to this novel, that make sense in that we’re dealing with a ghost and a hero who is having a major existential crisis. The ghost often functions as Alex’s conscience and in some ways, much like the ghosts that visit Ebeneezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” This is another book in which Kleypas obvious love of literature is showcased and lovingly inscribed into her writing.

This book is my favorite out of the series, and it earns a resounding five stars. I think that it captures the tone and the notes of a beautiful contemporary romance only as Kleypas could deliver. She uses language so beautifully, from the well-developed characters, to the intentional and spot on dialogue. While the ghost story didn’t really add to this book for me, it’s integral to the story, and it would definitely appeal to readers who like a little paranormal in their romance. Not as excited about Justine’s book, but at the same time, looking forward to reading it.

Oh, I guess I should mention the audiobook narration. It was good. Serviceable.

My dream cast:

Kelli Garner as Zoe

Nicholas Hoult as Alex

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